Record lows hit Calgary, but weather relief is in sight
Bone-chilling temperatures broke eight same-day record lows across Alberta and left the small town of Sundre with the dubious distinction of being the coldest place in North America on Tuesday, clocking in at -39.3 C.
Calgary gained momentary notoriety early in the day when one website reported the city to be the second coldest place on Earth, behind only the South Pole.
Well, turns out that's not true, according to Environment Canada: the temperature of -36.5 C out in Springbank, and -31.2 C at the Calgary International Airport, weren't even the lowest in the province.
Still, it was no easy day, and it didn't begin well.
Thousands of commuters in the northwest were delayed by up to an hour after a bus broke down across the LRT tracks near SAIT.
Moving it was next to impossible as its brakes had lost their air and wouldn't release. The vehicle had to be pushed out of the way by another Calgary Transit bus.
With the severe weather also came growing concerns about the homeless population.
One shelter reported being near capacity, with grave worries about some homeless who refused to come inside and continued to sleep out on the street.
At the Mustard Seed, there is also shortage of cold-weather wear. Donations are going out the door as fast as they come in. The shelter needs all kinds of winter clothing, including underwear.
"We have a desperate need for warm winter clothing, especially now," said spokeswoman Courtney Johnson.
The call for clothing comes as EMS has seen a significant spike in exposure calls, and dealt with people suffering hypothermia and frostbite.
Power use also surged across the province Tuesday. In Calgary, Enmax said it was likely consumption would set a one-day record.
This frigid weather is thanks to a cool pool of air from an Arctic ridge of high pressure that is over the province.
Cloud cover in recent days had provided some insulation from very low temperatures as it reflected back the heat of the Earth, according to Environment Canada meteorologist Bill McMurtry.
That all changed Tuesday.
"When that cloud cover isn't there, that heat from the Earth, it gets radiated away from the Earth, just goes up into the atmosphere and essentially is lost," he said.
Calgary didn't set a same-day record for its low temperature, but eight other jurisdictions did, including Banff, which has records dating back to 1892.
Another record-setter was Sundre. The town, about 125 kilometres northwest of Calgary, is used to setting temperature records, both high and low, according to former councillor Joe Henze.
It bottomed out as the coldest place in North America on Tuesday, according to Environment Canada.
"This morning it was cold, bloody cold," Henze said.
Many vehicles didn't fare too well here in Calgary. In a week that saw plenty of work for mechanics, one shop reports a series of cold-related problems, including dead batteries, broken windshield wipers and vehicles that simply weren't running properly.
"People try to turn their wipers on first thing without pulling their wiper away from the window," said Ryan Meyer, assistant manager with Mike's Auto Service in Marda Loop. "That burns out the motor."
And at the Canadian Tire on Macleod Trail by Southland Drive, there's been a run on winter-type gear, from batteries to block heaters and power cords.
"This past week has just been phenomenal for us," said general manager Cory Free.
The store isn't the only beneficiary of the frigid temperatures. At the Calgary Zoo, the Siberian tigers apparently find this weather comfortable.
But most animals, even those accustomed to some cold, had to be kept inside by staff, according to spokeswoman Laurie Herron.
Outside, attention was paid to making sure water supplies for the animals didn't freeze.
The cold snap brought warnings from EMS, with spokesman Stuart Brideaux noting people should take particular care to protect themselves and their children.
"Any exposed skin will be highly susceptible to frostbite. In the worst cases of someone who is not prepared for the weather, it can cause tissue damage to enough where you might lose things like the tips of your fingers or the tips of your toes," Brideaux said.
There is some good news. Temperatures are expected to rise later this week, according to McMurtry. "Thursday is the day where we start to see warm air."
Tuesday's lows in Alberta:
Calgary Springbank Airport -36.5
Rocky Mtn. House -37.8 (Record)
Edmonton International Airport -34.9 (Record)
Red Deer -35.3 (Record)
Sundre (North America's cold spot) -39.3 (Record)